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Cabin Fumes from Non-Fire Sources

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Non Combustion-related Fumes

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Category: Fire Smoke and Fumes Fire Smoke and Fumes
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Fumes from various non-fire related sources may sometimes be experienced within the cabins of passenger aircraft.


Most modern passenger aircraft are equipped with pressurised, climate controlled, cabins. In spite of the aircraft designers’ intentions, unwanted fumes frequently permeate the interior of the aircraft. Open doors and hatches as well as certain on-board sources can introduce fumes to the cabin environment. However the usual path of entry for fumes is via the aircraft pressurisation and air conditioning systems.

The majority of passenger aircraft utilise bleed air from the engine or APU to pressurize and heat or cool the aircraft cabin. As a consequence, any contaminants introduced into the engine/APU compressor prior to the point from which the bleed air is extracted may result in the appearance of corresponding fumes in the passenger cabin and flight deck.

Accidents and Incidents

  • A319, Belfast Aldergrove UK, 2011 - the investigation attributed the occurrence of fumes to the continued use of reverse idle thrust after clearing the runway onto a little used taxiway where the quantity of de-ice fluid residue was much greater than on the runway.
  • A320, en-route, Kalmar County Sweden, 2009 - the aircraft was de-iced inappropriately prior to departure and fumes entered the air conditioning system via the APU.
  • A332, Karachi Pakistan, 2014 - a hydraulic system fault was annunciated and soon afterwards, dense hydraulic mist entered both the passenger cabin and the flight deck via the aircraft air conditioning system.
  • A332, vicinity Perth Australia, 2014 - it was found that the rear pressure bulkhead insulation had not been correctly refitted following maintenance and had collapsed into and came into contact with APU bleed air duct.
  • A333, en-route, near Bournemouth UK, 2012 - the smoke warnings had all been false and had mainly come from one faulty detector.
  • A388, en-route, north east of Singapore, 2011 - investigation found signs of burning below the toilet floor and it was concluded that excessive current caused by a short circuit which had resulted from a degraded cable had been the likely cause, with over current protection limiting the damage caused by overheating.
  • B738, Glasgow UK, 2012 - excess moisture in the air conditioning system was considered likely to have been a factor.
  • B744, Phoenix USA, 2009 - detailed engineering investigation both before and after a ferry flight to the Operator’s maintenance base was unable to establish any source or explanation for the fumes / smoke.
  • B752, en-route, North Sea, 2006 - the cause was determined to be a fractured bearing floating seal ring, which had allowed engine oil to leak into the compressor airflow path and to be ingested into the bleed air system, which provides air to the cabin air conditioning system.
  • B773, Paris CDG France, 2013 - a fault in the APU had caused the smoke and fumes which had the potential to be toxic.
  • DH8D, en route, west-northwest of Dublin Ireland, 2015 - debris from a fractured bearing washer had compromised engine oil seals leading to fumes/smoke entering the aircraft through the air conditioning system.

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Further Reading